SCHOOL STRESS: Rewrite the Rules
Young Minds consultations with young people revealed that school stress is another issue young people are trying to manage. The research outlined:
> Over half of the children and young people we asked believe they will be a failure if they don’t get good grades.
> 82% of young people said schools should prepare pupils for life, not just exams, by teaching them how to cope when life is tough.
Young people are asking for:
> schools to help us deal with all the stresses of growing up, and help us to be strong for our future life as well as for our academic work.
> Personal, Social, Health and Economic education (PSHE) lessons to be compulsory.
> school inspections to look at how our schools are helping us to become strong and able to deal with our problems.
> schools to provide more support young people who are suffering stress, anxiety and depression, including access to counselling.
Children and young people spend a large proportion of their lives in schools and it is crucial to establish these as safe places where they can get help for a range of issues. It is disheartening to learn of some of the things children and young people are experiencing in schools from teachers and peers alike. But, that is a topic for another time. What the young people in this consultation are talking about is support. Tangible support that addresses issues of their education but also those things that impact their education such as their emotional health and well being. I think a few things, in addition to what young people are asking for, can help with this.
> having clinical social workers – even if just term time or sessional – in schools available for drop in sessions
> referral pathways from schools straight to counselling services
> psychologists – again either tem time only or sessional – that can aid those young people who may be presenting with early onset mental health issues
> group work at transitional phases for children and young people – i.e. moving on from primary school. moving on from secondary school etc. These don’t have to be psycho-educational groups, they can focus on activities to help build resilience, teach coping skills and give a realistic view of the changes that are to come.
> buddy systems – pairing younger children with older children who have proven themselves to excel academically but are also exhibiting leadership characteristics and are of positive influence to peers. It would help both the younger child acclimate to new surroundings and deal with some of the school stress. But it would also help the older child as this is a skill that can be take further and possible used to gain employment or other opportunities.
As Social Workers we often don’t come into the lives of children and young people until something has gone very wrong. This doesn’t have to be the case. Having social workers in schools, or even teaching some basic clinical skills to support workers in schools, could have a major impact in getting children and young people the support they are requesting. We have a duty to safeguard their well being. We have a duty to ensure they enjoy and achieve and are able to make positive contributions to society. We can be creative about the ways in which we teach them to do these things.
Parents are critical partners is helping children and young people succeed. Teachers and school staff play a large role in their lives but parents are the rearing the, teaching them standards and morals and leading by example. Parents have to take responsibility for what their children experience at home. They have to take responsibility for setting realistic expectations that don’t leave their children feeling burdened or that they are being set up to fail. Parents have to step up and ensure their children have the best possible life chances without the trauma of failure looming over their heads. I am not suggesting encouraging children to only do those things at which they will succeed, because we all know that in those moments where things don’t go the way we expected, we can experience real growth. What I am saying is that if teachers and school staff are realistically going to help our children succeed and give them the support they need, parents need to play a role in ensuring the right messages are being given and carried through. Parents, teachers and school staff alike need to be able to recognise children and young people’s strengths, maximizing these while helping them to get better at those things where they are not the strongest. Developing partnerships supports parents in addressing difficult issues but it also surrounds children and young people with a network of support and allows the lines of communication between children and parents to be open.It gives children and young people multiple avenues for accessing help.
We also need to be mindful of the pressures that high achievement or pressure to achieve can place on children and young people. There should certainly be expectations but these should be proportionate to the skills and abilities of young people. This is why the partnership between parents and educators is so crucial; each will hold a significant amount of information about a child or young person that each will need to ensure that child or young person’s success. It cannot be left to one person to provide everything a child needs, though there are expectations of everyone involved in the life of a child.
We have a duty to our young people and we need to make sure we can answer that call.